Note: I am leaving this piece up for today (Wednesday) because of the response it has attracted. I’ll continue my commentary on the issues it raises tomorrow.
The New York Times published a piece yesterday on how church youth groups are using the video game Halo 3 to attract young people, specifically young men, who are just about the hardest group to reach of them all. The article prompted an opportunity for reflection on reaching youth and the lengths to which we go to do so.
Beginning with the immediate issue, I’m not sure how I feel about churches using Halo 3 to reach youth. It is a very violent game, and we’ve got to acknowledge that. With that said, though, the game is not as violent as some games are. I have played previous iterations, none of which incited me to commit violence against others. Should churches use video games to reach teens? That’s a tough question. It’s hard to reach teens. They are at once asking big questions and devoting themselves to minor matters. There is a reason that many young men become obsessed with sports or other diversions and many young men become obsessed with the school social scene or other pastimes. This is because they do not have to deal with the heavy matters of life as do adults. Yet at the same time teens do think a good deal and will consider material that is thoughtfully and interestingly presented. Teens are tough to reach, yes, but affecting material can and will move them and lead them to think about deeper things. They’ll gravitate to Halo 3, yes, but they will also ponder the higher questions of life in their bedrooms when alone and isolated from the immature and sometimes abrasive school environment.
Which leads me to propose that whether or not Halo 3 is the best way to reach teens is not the best question to ask. I would rather have parents taking responsibility for their teens’ spiritual lives and not ceding such activity to their local youth group leader. When parents live out a real, vibrant, passionate Christianity that avoids both pious platitudes and youthful identification, they set themselves up to connect with their child and to allow their teen to consider the Christian faith in a sustained and thoughtful way. We have somehow worked ourselves into a situation where parents are merely responsible for ensuring their teens’ survival, even as they leave all cultivation of a healthy spiritual life to an overtaxed youth minister who has only a fraction of the time and opportunity of a parent with the youngsters. This is a fundamentally flawed situation. Tomorrow, we’ll look at it more, and examine the paradigm through which parents can lead their children through the tough and tumultuous teenage years.